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Attack politics and Facebook

Thursday, July 26, 2012

A few months back, Facebook started giving users the option of unsubscribing to most or all someone's status updates, without actually de-friending them.

It's a useful option as we approach election season. I have to admit, I've unsubscribed from a few people who were going overboard on the political postings.

It's not that I don't care about politics; I do. But politics-by-Facebook-photo seems to be more about sarcasm and hate than about solving this country's problems. Tiny minds from either end of the political spectrum pat them on the back for creating some photo or meme that mocks the other party's candidate or platform.

But if your political viewpoint can be expressed in the width of a few pixels on the middle column of your Facebook wall, it's pretty narrow.

American politics, the great laboratory of democracy, has always had pithy slogans. "Give me liberty or give me death!" "Tippecanoe and Tyler Too!" "Fifty-four-forty or Fight!" "Remember the Alamo!" "You'll Wonder Where The Yellow Went When You Brush Your Teeth With Pepsodent!" (Sorry ... no idea how that last one got in there.) But slogans do not statesmanship make, at least according to the T-shirt I'm going to have printed up next week.

I'm suspicious of any candidate or partisan who spends more time talking about how terrible the opposition is than they do about their own vision for the country. And that's what's so insidious about these Facebook postings -- they're generally not about solving problems, they're about demeaning the opposition.

"Oh, look, it's a rich guy!"

"Oh, look, it's a guy with a Middle-Eastern-sounding middle name!"

It's easier to defend your own beliefs if you can make the other side's beliefs sound as ridiculous as possible. So instead of responding to each other, we belittle each other -- we caricature the other side's beliefs in order to mock them more effectively. And Internet memes are perhaps the most potent and easy-to-distribute form of mockery yet invented.

But what's really the point? It's hard to imagine anyone's mind being changed by one of these things. The only effect they have is that you can pat yourself on the back for your own cleverness and for being on the correct side, as you define "correct." That tends to make you a little more smug and sure of your own convictions.

But our problems aren't that cut-and-dried. I can think of issues where I think we need to move to the left, and other issues where I think we need to move to the right, and still other issues where I don't think either end of the spectrum has come up with any solutions.

The only way -- the only way -- we're ever going to move this country forward is by talking to each other, passionately but respectfully, about what we believe, how we see the problems, and how we see the solutions. And the further this country slides into resentful bumper-sticker politics, the less likely that is to happen.

We need to try to challenge ourselves. Don't just listen to the commentators with whom you agree; listen to the ones with whom you disagree, and keep an open mind. Your politics might become harder to sum up in a Facebook post, but our country might become better as a result.

Plus, if we start making our political choices based on Facebook, I'm concerned that we're going to get confused and start electing cute kittens, or zombies, or Muppets, or condescendingly-captioned screen grabs of Willy Wonka.

Of course, it could always be worse; if we start making our political choices based on Pinterest, our next president could be a recipe for rhubarb pie.

--John I. Carney is city editor of the Times-Gazette and covers county government. He is also the author of the self-published novel "Soapstone." His personal web site is http://lakeneuron.com .


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A huge AMEN, John...couldn't agree more!!

-- Posted by dkd57 on Thu, Jul 26, 2012, at 4:01 PM

Of course John is a little concerned. Facebook posts like the ones he is referring to expose the completely left leaning bias of the Shelbyville Times Gazette and its parent company. It is truly hindering their slant. Let's think about what John just said. He thinks that people who post their Constitutionally protected right to free speech and parody (positive or negative)on their OWN Facebook page have "tiny minds" or are "narrow". It seems, according to John, the only way anyone should form their views would be from somewhere like I don't know, THE TIMES GAZETTE. It is my opinion, that more TRUTH comes out on social pages such as Facebook where the people can discuss the issues not JUST read one SMUG editors or writers opinion. They can express their own with as much or more reach as a local newspaper. This brings about unedited (which just happens to be his job, Editing),no holds barred truth that can be backed up or not with a few simple key strokes. There is no Editor to say what can or can't be or should or shouldn't be printed. Unlike the papers good ole days when they completely controlled what you saw or didn't see. It only takes thumbing through the T-G for a short time to see that you are only getting one (Democratic slanted) side or view (editorials) of anything in relation to the upcoming elections or politics in general. This IS a humongous threat to not only the Democrats and their so called "mainstream media", but the strict hold they have held over the masses for decades. They are losing their grip and it is showing heavily on social pages such as Facebook. It is becoming increasingly clear to the masses what has been going on for years and the "mainstream media" are becoming less and less relevent. They are not used to people being able to respond to their editorials, cartoon satires or opinions. We all saw how the T-G responded when they didn't like the content or direction of the post that were appearing on news stories. They could care less about YOUR right to free speech or right to parody, only they are intelligent (or smug) enough to tell you what is "correct". We "tiny minded folks" are not intelligent enough to do our own research or form our own opinions as to whether what we are reading is real and true or just someones opinion. How many stories have you read in the T-G regarding Obama campaign spokesperson Stephanie Cutter being caught flat out lying that the White House was not aware or did not participate in the content only to be caught on a conference call doing just that! Yeah, that's what I thought. Me either. While he tells us discuss, talk & keep an open mind, he said he finds it useful to "unsubscribe" to the people who may have different views than his. It's very difficult to keep an open mind that way. Next time you see something in the T-G that you don't like or is slanted with no opposing views, just "unsubscribe" to their publication. That's what I did long, long ago.

-- Posted by jdl.7971 on Fri, Aug 10, 2012, at 5:49 PM
Response by John Carney:
The decision about story comments was made above me on the organizational chart, while my column reflects my own personal opinion, so I'm not sure what one has to do with the other.

I do feel safe in saying, however, that the decision about story comments had nothing to do with partisan politics; if story comments had only been filled with people discussing political issues, from whatever end of the spectrum, there would have been no problem. The problem had to do with personal attacks, accusations, name-calling and that sort of thing. We're far from the only web site that's struggled with such content.

I also don't think it's fair to criticize the T-G as being tilted toward one end of the political spectrum. Our newsroom is fairly balanced, including people from a variety of political viewpoints, left and right, but when we're reporting straight news we try to play it right down the middle. Talk to candidates and party officials from both parties and see if they think we've treated them fairly.

My column, I think fairly clearly, encouraged people of all political viewpoints to express those viewpoints -- but in the form of thoughtful, personal expression and dialogue, as opposed to snide little pass-along memes. Neither party or political movement has any exclusive claim to such bumper-sticker politics, and I've been annoyed at posts from both sides. I know thoughtful, reasonable, open-minded conservatives and liberals, and I know knee-jerk, resentment-driven conservatives and liberals. I don't believe anyone could have reasonably read my original column as espousing one side or the other.



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John I. Carney
Loose Talk / Charge Complete
John I. Carney is city editor of the Times-Gazette.

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